Sunday, November 30, 2008

Trip from Las Cruces to Home

Anja had flown into Las Cruces, and joined me on the return trip to LA. We stopped at the Queen Creek climbing area near Superior, AZ. After climbing we hit major traffic about 150 miles from home caused by some construction on I-10. On the trip home I also declared the stereo system INFERIOR! We tried to listen to a Book on CD but the stock speakers were too poor.

Saturday, November 29, 2008


Problem Statement: Anja wants to be able to make hot chocolate without turning on the generator.

Currently: the microwave is plugged into an outlet right next to it which is connected to the AC system (Shore power/AC system) so we put in a Xantrex 1200 inverter. The microwave is 600 watts so this should be sufficient power. Since I wanted to be sure I didn't accidentally leave the inverter on I installed a switch in the positive power line. I installed it with power connected straight to the batteries. The inverter has two outputs: one is connected to an outlet adjacent to the inverter; the second has a home depot extension cable attached that runs behind the driver side closets and is butt connected to a home depot power strip which is located directly above the microwave.

Old Inverter

New Inverter

Battery connection

Lessons Learned: The system seems to work but the switch only kind of works and may not be the best for the inverter. There are two switches for the inverter; one on the inverter (accessed by lifting up part of the bed) and a second easily to access circuit break switch so the inverter will not drain the house batteries while turned off. As installed the inverter turns off fine. Flip the circuit break switch and the inverter is off. However, to turn the inverter on you must turn the circuit break switch on, then turn the switch on the inverter to off, and then turn the switch on the inverter back to on. It is a little annoying to have access under the bed to turn the inverter on but the circuit break switch is effective for turning it off. In trials we are not sure if the microwave is getting full power but it is working and is nice to have a power strip available.

Stove install

The van had formerly had a stove or was setup to have an easy stove install. The counter was somewhat precut for one and the copper tubing was in place. I cut into the counter, screwed in the stove and connected it to the piping under the sink. No dice. The piping from the tank was not connected to the piping under the sink. No worries piping was all there just need to switch an elbow fitting under the van for a T fitting. Crux: had to flare the copper tubing under the van to do it. I got it all done and bubble tested everything but just didn't feel confident about having done the job myself. Lying on the ground under the van to flare and test was just too much. I took it to Snell's RV in El Monte and had it pressure tested. Sure enough my flare leaked and they reflared it and reconnected it. They were nice guys and had reasonable prices, so Snell’s might be my solution to the solar panel install.

Lessons Learned: The stove has not been that useful yet but I see its value more for colder trips and we have not done that yet.

The install



Friday, November 28, 2008

Work in Las Cruces - Solar & Bike Rack

Bike Rack
Yakima Terragate 4 for $125 off craigslist. It attaches to the back hitch and fits well even with the spare tire that is mounted on the rear door. It has a swing away action which allows for easy access to the back door even with the bikes mounted. Possible option: bike rack can hold four bikes. I'm thinking two bikes and two Lafuma chairs. Keep posted to find out if this works out.

Seat comfort
A memory foam pillow (full size) cut in half works great. It was a gift from Anja’s mom. It was too large so we cut it in half to enjoy it as a pillow and a killer lumbar support.

Solar Panel expansion
I bought two solar panels from an Arizona company. Kyocera 54 watt panels with junction box (25” x 26”) and z brackets for mounting.

Lessons Learned: I had underestimated the difficulty in attaching these to the van since you cannot really access the back of the roof. After I did a little research, well nuts seemed to be the way to go but I'm being chicken about drilling into the roof. We'd still really like to get these installed as the current 50 watt panel only provides enough power to keep the batteries full with nothing on if the van sits for a month or so between trips.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Mtbing Las Cruces

While I was in Las Cruces I went for a mountain bike ride in the Donna Ana Mountains north of town. It was a little hard to follow the trail as is weaved in and out from the dirt road and the climb was difficult up the dirt road with the loose cobbles but once on top of the plateu it was fast riding on the dirt road.



Self shot

Saturday, November 22, 2008

LA to Las Cruces

The second trip in the van I drove solo from LA to Las Cruces, New Mexico for Thanksgiving. I set out on Friday night after work and fought through traffic into Arizona. I pulled off the road about 60 miles into Arizona and slept in the van near Courthouse rock. The second day I drove on to Tuscon and stopped for some bouldering and a mountain bike ride. Since we didn't have a bike rack the bikes rode inside.

Lessons Learned: WE NEED A BIKE RACK! As luck would have it I already knew this and had found a Yakima rack on craigslist in Boulder which Keith (my brother who lives in Boulder) was enlisted to pickup and deliver to Las Cruces.

In route I stopped for a mountain bike ride in Tuscon. It was a nice ride and felt fairly remote in spots. Luckily I did not get a fat in all that desert vegitation as it was soon dark after I finished.

Trailhead parking

About a third done

About two-thirds done

The front seat is not that comfortable for a long ride as it lacks lower back support. With two people driving it is not a problem but an eleven hour solo drive is not very comfortable.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Anja's Birthday Weekend in Joshua Tree Nat. Park

The first trip we took with the van (besides the drive home) was to Joshua Tree for climbing and a party for Anja's birthday. We packed 4 (Rachel, Ram, Anja, and Ken) people in and left our apartment for Jtree on Friday night with a stop at the Ontario airport to pick up Alex. We brought Lufuma Recliner chairs Clipper XL, and they are hands down the most comfortable camp chairs I have ever sat in. I could easily spend the day reading, relaxing, and napping in these chairs. We spent two nights in the van at Sheep Pass Group Campground, the second night was windy and chilly. Erika was the first overnight guest in the van. Saturday night Anja held a cake contest for her birthday and awarded prizes. Jenny won for overall but Erika and Crystal had excellent entries.

Lessons learned: We have camped countless times at Jtree often in a Honda Element sleeping inside so having a shelter like the van was nothing new but so much space was awesome. It was cold and windy the second night and when we got up in the morning everything was blowing like crazy, enough to rock the van back and forth a little, but we were cozy inside.

We have seating for 7 but 5 is really the max for driving and the head space is not the greatest in the back 5 seats.

Fixes: Not sure what to do about Lufuma Chairs so comfy but not sure how we can fit them on.
The back passenger side has a head board of sorts which limits head room.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Summary of things to change

In our rig we have a generator, shore power connection, 2 house batteries (Group 27; estimated 75 amps x 2), microwave, and Todd Power Source PC-45 converter/charger. Our microwave runs on AC power so it only powers on when we have the generator on or connected to shore power.

1. Inverter: We will rarely connected to shore power so we don’t want to have to turn the generator on to every time we use the microwave for 3 minutes (estimated a 5 amp draw). I’d also like to power the 110 volt outlets. From my research I see a cheap option of adding a 1,000-watt inverter ($200) and expensive option replacing the converter/charger with a converter-charger-inverter ($700). I will probably do the cheap option unless I get talked out of it. I’m not sure yet where the inverter should be wired in? Does not seem like I would want to wired in before the 110 AC circuit breaker because then it would run to the converter/charger which would try to charge the batteries.

2. Second solar panel (80 to 135W Kyocera) – Currently 50 watt panel; Specialty Concept Mark 15 solar charger controller.

3. I’d like to build an exterior storage location for white gas for backpacking stove. A gallon of white gas is about 4” x 6” x 8” and the fuel canister to use with the stove is about 2” x 8”. I’d either like to store this on the roof or rear of vehicle. An Aluminess bumper would be the perfect solution and frankly makes van look badass but I’d rather not spend $3,000. If I could get by with a more white trash solution for way less.

I have been considering a bolt on storage shelf on the rear door or even rear of the roof, like this jerry can carrier.

4. DC powered computer like from
5. LCD TV which can also serve as monitor
6. propane stove in counter (debating between Atwood ($50) and flush mount smev 2-burner ($270))
7. replace front seats foam and create arm rest (or new seats)
8. Component speakers up front and upgrade rear 6x9s
9. Bike rack to hold two bikes (probably receiver hitch rack; maybe front hitch?)
10. LED replacement blubs or fixtures
11. Make side “40” side of 60/40 doors swing all the way open. (I guess we just pull the restrictor pin)
12. Front hitch
13. Center consol on top of doghouse

Known problems:
A. Rear door power lock does not work
B. House batteries are a little old
C. Windshield wiper fluid does not spray
D. Tires are old and cracking a little.
E. Doghouse gets pretty hot under regular driving